“How can people possibly have nuanced discussions on social media?!”
“All everyone wants to hear these days are soundbites!”
“Can you really summarize a position on national defense in a Tweet?!”
That’s me, quoting myself.
I have lost track of how many times I’ve lamented the decline of serious debate and discussion due to social media and our shrinking attention span. How can we possibly have a nuanced discussion in 280 characters or less? But I’ve come around. I recently joined Twitter and I want to tell you why.
When the pandemic started, I began to post on Facebook far more often than I had in the past. Communicating through Facebook was not as simple as taking a sermon and pasting it onto a Facebook post. To catch the eye of someone scrolling at the end of a long day or during a short break, you need to catch their attention with something short and snappy. To change my regular writing style was challenging, but there was something – something that I could not exactly put my finger on at the time – that just felt right about writing that way.
Then, a short while ago, a friend of mine who is a digital media manager reached out and encouraged me to join Twitter. Twitter?! I thought to myself. The place where you cannot write a full paragraph?! The place I’ve been mocking from the pulpit?!
“Sure,” I said, “that sounds like a great idea.”
I remembered something I had learned from a teacher of mine, or my Rebbi (not be confused with Rebbe – a chassidic rabbi – or Rabbi, a shul rabbi, but Rebbi – literally, my teacher) in Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh. When my Rebbi was a young student at the prestigious Chevron Yeshiva, he had a private study session with one of the Roshei Yeshiva of the institution. Once a week there would be a lecture given to the entire yeshiva by one of the other leading teachers in this institution. My Rebbi would attend this lecture and then would visit the Rosh Yeshiva to study. But before they would begin, the Rosh Yeshiva would ask him to summarize the entire, brilliant, complex lecture he just attended – in one sentence. Remember, this was a discourse in Talmud in one of the leading yeshivas in Israel. One sentence.
My teacher would explain to his students the rationale behind this strange request: “If you can’t say it in one sentence then you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
When studying Torah, it is so easy to get caught up in the trees and lose sight of the forest. Ask any young yeshiva student studying a page of Talmud what it is that he is learning, and you will likely get a blank stare. I know that for many years, I could not answer that question. The Talmud is (seemingly) so disorganized and jumps from topic to topic without any warning. What is true about Talmud in particular is true about Judaism in general. Ask a room full of Jews what Judaism is all about, there would be as many answers as there are people. Is it this Mitzvah or that one? Ten commandments or 13 principles of faith? Beliefs or actions? Ask the same group of people two weeks later and you will get a hundred new answers.
“If you can’t say it in one sentence then you don’t know what you’re talking about.” That’s what my teacher meant. That’s why his teacher asked him to summarize the entire class in one breath. And that’s why I joined Twitter.
What was appealing to me about these Facebook posts is that it was forcing me to be succinct. Twitter was an opportunity to go even further. To share on Twitter meant distilling an idea to its essence. That’s always important but especially now.
Our brains are currently overburdened with stress, anxiety, and fear like never before. Our schedules are haphazard – if you even have a schedule these days. Every time I sit down to work on an extended piece of writing, I run out of creative gas two paragraphs in. I cannot concentrate.
But now, when I start to prepare a thought for shul, I try to write it as a Tweet it and see how it sounds. (Sometimes I cheat and write a thread – a number of Tweets strung together, but I try not to!) To be clear, I don’t really have any followers – possibly because I’m using Twitter as a personal sounding board! Also, please be warned, Twitter can be a rabbit hole that you cannot escape from, so please do not see this as an encouragement to sign up for Twitter. But for me, Twitter is creating a tiny semblance of order in what is otherwise a rather messy mind during a really messy time.
It occurred to me that the very first individual to do this was none other than Moshe Rabbeinu.
In our Torah portion, he asks the following question – “Mah Hashem Elokecha doreish mimcha? What is it that G-d wants from you?”
For four and a half books of the Torah, we’ve read stories and laws, and more stories and more laws, but what’s it all about? What does G-d actually want from us? What IS Judaism?
Moshe tells us – “Only to fear Hashem your G-d, to go in His ways, to love Him, and to serve Hashem your G-d with all your heart and soul.”
Did you catch that? Moshe just summarized all of Judaism in less than 120 characters?!
A few centuries later, the great sage, Hillel, does the same thing: ‘What is hateful to you, do not do onto others. Everything else is commentary.’ Only 63 characters!
You try. Really.
Maybe not to summarize what Judaism is, but at least what Judaism is to you. Because without having a succinct idea of what it is we’re practicing and striving for, it’s very easy to lose the forest for the trees. That’s true for our spiritual life as it is for our family life as it is for our professional life. We need to have a clear vision of what it is we’re doing or trying to do or else we get distracted. Steven Covey once said, “Everyone is so busy climbing the ladder of success that they don’t stop to ensure that it’s leaning against the right building.”
Only Moshe can answer what G-d wants from us. But what do you want from yourself? For me, it is ‘To constantly feel the presence of G-d even in dark times and to constantly draw even closer to Him.’ That reorients me when I feel like I am lost. It guides me when I need to make difficult decisions. Without a clear spiritual vision, it’s so easy to lose sight of what we’re really after.
Everyone wants to love their family, but what does that really mean? Love is too vague. Can we distill the essence of our vision? This is what I came up with: ‘To develop an ever-deepening connection with my family members and constantly build them up.’ What do you want to accomplish every time you step into your home or speak to a family member? Without a succinct vision, we can interact with our family constantly, we can even love them deeply, but never have the family life of our dreams.
Clarity is hard time to come by these days. Our minds are racing, our emotions are raging, and that fog in our head seems to be getting thicker and thicker. Take a moment to create a little light and direction that could guide you now and always. Take a cue from Moshe, our greatest teacher, and crystalize your goals, and may that little light dispel this great darkness.
Oh, and if you do join Twitter, make sure to follow me 😉